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A tricolon is a group of three similar phrases, words, clauses, or sentences. They are parallel in their length, rhythm, and/or structure.

Tricolon is a rhetorical device, meaning that it’s used to improve the impact of one’s writing when it’s used. When used, tricola can create pithy and clever phrases that readers should have an easy time remembering. This is an especially helpful feature for persuasive writing to have. For instance, speech writing.

Tricolon pronunciation: try-coh-lun

Tricolon definition and examples


Definition of Tricolon

A tricolon is a series of three phrases, words, sentences, etc., that, when combined, emphasize one another. They should use a parallel structure. Meaning, they should have some fundamental similarities in their structure. This could be how long each portion is, the syllables, or the words used in the phrase. One famous example comes from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is credited with: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” This is a great example of how the third part of a tricolon can surprise the reader. This is not a necessary feature, but it is frequently used.

The word “tricolon” comes from the Greek meaning “three” and “clause.”

Example of Tricola in Literature

Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Dirge Without Music’ is a beautiful short poem that contains several examples of tricola. Millay is speaking about death and how she’s unwilling to forget the “Lovers and thinkers” who have been resigned to the earth. The following lines can be found in the final stanza of ‘Dirge Without Music.’

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

Millay provides readers with two examples of tricola. She brings together various adjectives to describe those lost to death but not lost to her heart.

Read more Edna St. Vincent Millay poems.

Examples of Tricola in Speeches

President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela

Some of the best examples of tricola come from speeches. One of the better-known is President Barack Obama’s speech at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. This speech was delivered in December 2013, and he used the following lines in the middle of the most noteworthy and memorable paragraph:

Let us search for his largeness of spirit somewhere inside of ourselves. And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, when our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach, let us think of Madiba and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of his cell.

In this passage, the tricolon “And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts when our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach” stands out. These lines build on one another, leading to a wonderfully memorable phrase that evokes the spirit of the speaker and Nelson Mandela.

Chance for Peace Speech by Dwight D. Eisenhower

The following lines are found in the “Chance for Peace” speech delivered by Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 16th, 1953, after the death of Joseph Stalin. It’s also sometimes known as the “Cross of Iron” speech. He said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

The first part of this excerpt contains an example of a tricolon. He says: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired.” These phrases use the same structure and are around the same length.

Second Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln

In this example, from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, given in 1865, he uses the following lines:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

In the first line of this excerpt, Lincoln brings together “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right.” These three phrases summarize Lincoln’s approach to governing and what he’d like a listener to take from his speech.

Why Do Writers Use Tricola?

Tricola are used when writers want to create a particularly memorable series of statements. They can be used in all types of writing, from poetry to speech writing. But, it is in the latter that the device truly shines. When used skillfully and thoughtfully, tricola can evoke the power of a specific movement and even work as a metaphorical call to arms, inspiring those listening. They add drama to one’s spoken words, elevating them beyond normal colloquialisms. In poetry, writers can make use of meter and rhyme to make these examples even more effective. If they want readers to pay attention to a specific section of the text, they might use a tricolon to emphasize it.


What is a tricolon in literature?

A tricolon is a group of three phrases, words, sentences, or clauses. They use the same structure, words or are the same length.

What is the purpose of a tricolon?

Tricola are used to emphasize the elements of an idea, a policy, or feeling. They are very useful in persuasive writing.

What is a triple in literature?

A triple is a group of three points used to support an argument or idea.

How to use a tricolon?

Writers can use a tricolon by bringing together the parts of one idea and state them, one after another. It’s necessary to use some type of similar structure between them.

Is tricolon language or structure?

A tricolon is a rhetorical device that’s used to improve one’s writing.

  • Amplification: a rhetorical device that’s used to improve a sentence or statement with additional information.
  • Chiasmus: a rhetorical device that occurs when the grammatical structure of a previous phrase or clause is reversed or flipped.
  • Enumeration: a rhetorical device that occurs when a writer chooses to list out items, events, ideas, or other parts of a story/setting.
  • Pleonasm: a rhetorical device that occurs when a writer uses two or more words to express an idea.

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